Community members gathered at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth on Monday to celebrate a new resource center for LGBT+ people in the Northland and their allies.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, 2spirit + Arrowhead Resource and Community Center - or LARCC, for short, pronounced like "lark" - is a partnership of the LGBT Elder Network, Northland Prism Community, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota's Together for Youth and Gloria Dei Welcoming Ministries.
"We hope to accomplish greater community connections, support queer/trans (organizations) in their longevity in the Twin Ports, and create a safe, sober space for all ages to gather and find support, referrals, and their niche in our beautiful, diverse community," reads the description on the LARCC's Facebook page.
The center has space in a new meeting room at Gloria Dei, 219 N. Sixth Ave. E. For now, volunteers will staff the center from 4-7 p.m. Mondays starting June 3, though organizers hope to expand those hours.
The center hopes to act as a community meeting point through planned events and regular office hours, as well as to help support the Twin Ports' various LGBT groups.
"Duluth has many groups that are LGBT, but they kind of all do something different; they're very splintered and very fractured," said Kathleen Gates, a community center organizer involved with the LGBT Elder Network.
In particular, the center hopes to bring LGBT+ people of different ages together in a shared space in the Northland.
To that end, the center hopes to fill its calendar with various events and gatherings, Gates said. She said the center hopes to have several potluck dinners like Monday's grand opening event each year.
The LARCC was a vision of Superior resident Peter Golden, who ran the former Northland Gay Men's Group before passing away in 2017. When that group disbanded, members donated leftover money to be put toward a future resource center.
As an information resource, Gates said staff at the center will be able to help with anything from, for instance, where to find LGBT-friendly bars, coffee houses and other social spaces to assisting transgender and nonbinary people in finding medical care.
Gates said the center would benefit community members of different ages in particular. The center is a place where diverse people can find that sense of shared community.
"A lot of the older people in the community are pretty isolated," she said.
Meanwhile, the rise of social media, in part, means younger people can be less inclined to build community in person, said Kathy Hermes, coordinator for LSS Together for Youth.
"For the middle-agers and elders, there used to be community," she said. "And then it slipped away, and a lot of people miss it. And a lot of people are desperately lonely.
Parallelling older community members' concerns, Hermes said many young people are "dangerously isolated in online arenas" while face-to-face gatherings have suffered in attendance.
By spending more time together at the LARCC, young LGBT+ people might get a better sense of community history, Hermes said.
"The elders just have a rich knowledge of the history in this area (and) the history nationally," she said.
Older people, meanwhile, might get a needed reminder that queer youth often struggle even today.
"I hear from incredulous elders who say, 'I thought we took care of that in the '60s and '70s,'" Hermes said. "But especially in rural areas, sexual identity is still a frontier, and certainly gender identity (and) expression is. A lot of elders are pretty astonished to find out that we're still in the thick of the work."
Hermes' hope is that the LARCC will help reinvigorate those person-to-person interactions and break the isolation - for people of all ages - and that the center is a safe community space for all, especially in the Trump era, when some LGBT+ people are feeling more pressure and stress.
"I think we've lost some of those places where we might have felt comfortable being more authentic," Hermes said. "The ideal would be that there's relatively regular gatherings, and that people would view this as a as a safe community space."